Veneto separatists arrested for suspected 'terrorism'
Investigators say sought out other groups for insurrection02 April, 16:04
An Italian prosecutor said that the separatists were planning an ''insurrection'' to obtain independence for the region around Venice.
''They proposed independence from the Italian State by using violent methods and insurrection,'' said Brescia Prosecutor Tommaso Buonanno after the arrests.
The people put in handcuffs included former MP Franco Rocchetta, the founder of the Liga Veneta (Veneto League) separatist party. Twenty-two were jailed and two placed under house arrest.
''More than cutting salami, we need need to load up dynamite sticks,'' Giancarlo Orini, one of those arrested, is quoted by the arrest warrant as saying in a wiretapped conversation. Investigators said the separatists also sought to act under the umbrella of the Alleanza (the alliance), which ''brought together a number of secessionist organizations under the joint project of independence from the Italian State''. Investigators said the Allianza was founded at a Brescia meeting in May 2012 ''with the objective of involving them in the generalized protest in support of real military action''. The groups included Brescia Patria (Brescia homeland), Veneto Stato (Veneto state), the Sardinian independence movement Disubbidientzia, as well as the Venetian Serenissimi movement, investigators said.
Police seized a tractor that they said the Veneto suspects had unsuccessfully tried to turn into a sort of tank by attaching a canon and armour plating to for an attention-grabbing protest in Venice's St Mark's Square. The economic crisis has increased support for independence in the northeastern region of Veneto, where many blame central government for bleeding local businesses dry with high taxation.
Last month separatists organized an unofficial referendum in which an overwhelming majority of participants voted in favour of leaving Italy.
Organizers said some two million people took part in the poll, but this figure has been challenged by many critics. The Liga Veneta was a founding member of Northern League, a federation of regionalist parties.
Investigators said the League had no connection to the separatist actions that led to the Wednesday's arrests, but League politicians attacked the operation as an infringement on rights. ''We've reached madness. If the State thinks its scaring anyone, it is wrong,'' said the League's secretary, Matteo Salvini.
''It is unacceptable that the Venetians, who with their work and their taxes have pushed the country forward until now, do not even have the possibility of reclaiming their freedom in a non-violent manner,'' wrote MP Roberto Caon, a member of the League and Veneto representative.
League member and European MP Antonio Borghezio called Rocchetta ''an extraordinary Veneto patriot''.
The League has recently upped its drive for greater autonomy for wealthy northern regions and started calling for outright independence again, the original demand of its early years.